Ilkley 2 day.
Well this weekend brought the 4 stage race that is the ilkley 2-day, yep 4 stages in two days… Famous for its tough terrain and conditions that usually match.
Stage 1 – By Max McMurdo
Stage 1 was a very short but painful 2.37km prologue, designed to just shake up the GC and get everyone prepped for what was to come.
I had been told that the course was “all down hill” more times than I care to think, so I was expecting to struggle with my junior gearing. It turned out that it started with a slight rise in the road followed by a flat fast mile. Myself and Ali were at HQ warming up with Eugene warming up on the course. Our race start times were 10:57 10:58 and 10:59 with Eugene starting, myself second and Alastair the last of the SSLL boys. I had quite a sweat on when I got to the start line after Ali and I both getting slightly lost finding our ways to the start.
I got myself psyched up on the start line and waited to be called up. I got clipped in, shoes tightened, St Christopher out for good luck, Garmin on and I was ready. 30 seconds to go… Deep breathes, this is gonna hurt! 10 secs… Out the pedals. 3 secs to go… Lean back. Off! Sprinting up the rise, cresting it with a lot left in the tank, my thoughts were to finish strong not to tail off towards the end.
Now anyone who’s ridden the course they’ll know that this is probably one of the longest straightest roads around us! I could see the finish with just under 1 km to go, I started to run out of gears as expected as I started to sprint. I had emptied the tank and finished in 3 mins 3 seconds according to my Garmin. It was only till I got back to HQ where I realised it wasn’t quite as good a ride as id hoped. I had done it in 3 mins 8 seconds which although doesn’t sound like a lot, those 5 seconds split the top 20. I finished in 23rd, Eugene had done a stormer and beat both me and Ali coming in in 3 mins 2 seconds.
Everyone was then in to recovery mode for the afternoons road race round the infamous Pennypot circuit.
Stage 2 – By Alastair Wareham
Stage 2 followed the morning’s Prologue in which I sitting 9th overall, Eugene 6th and Max 23rd with just a handful of seconds separating us all. Max and I had already spent a few matches in the morning event and that was before the Prologue. We got lost trying to get to the start, and with 10 minutes to go we were drilling it in the opposite direction we had come realising our error and trying to get to the start on time. It was a good warm up nonetheless. This would be my first road race for 2 years. I had endured a few sleepless nights questioning why I even entered the event. 4 Stages, over 2 days, off an average of 7 hours a week training, what could possibly go wrong!
The event itself was filled with some of the country’s best up and coming talent. Adam Hartley, Harry Hardcastle, Kieron Savage, Archie Cross to name a few, as well as our own Eugene Cross (Archie’s younger brother) and Max McMurdo. I felt a little out of my depth if I am completely honest.
Lining up in the neutralised area and looking around me, I felt somewhat overweight and underprepared! My plan was to conserve as much energy as possible because I knew the 4th and final stage was going to be absolutely brutal. Obviously any pre-race plan goes out the window as soon as the flag drops.
The 2nd stage was held on the Penny Pot circuit which is fairly brutal itself. Penny Pot lane is a 5 mile drag at around 3-4% gradient. After 4 or 5 laps it felt more like 10% gradient. There were some fast sweeping descents and tough little drags to contend with, with each lap covering 11 miles. The day itself was beautiful. 20 degrees or so but fairly windy.
We rolled out of the neutralised zone and made our way to the start area. One of my main downfalls from when I used to road race was positioning and almost immediately I found myself at the back of the bunch. Two years none-the-wiser it seems. As soon as the flag dropped it was carnage with attacks going off left, right and centre. The first hairy moment of the day was the descent of Pot Bank which is 17% gradient with 75 riders jostling for position. The screeching smell of carbon brake blocks was delightful and all I could hear was somebody flying off to the right of me and into the bushes. Man down. Not me luckily (I saved that for the final stage) and the race continued at breakneck speed. By the time I had made my way up to mid bunch, a break had already gone BUT thankfully it contained one of my teammates, Eugene (more about him later). Post race reports say that riders were getting dropped in their droves. It really was a tough race but with so many national standard riders it was no surprise.
I slowly started making my way towards the front of the 2nd group where I was joined by my other teammate, Max McMurdo. Max reminds me a lot of myself when I started road racing. Bags of power, very good at causing mischief in the early stages of a race, great at dishing out some pain, but using too many matches early on and missing the vital move. I had made a note of the strong riders left in the 2nd group and those doing the work to try and reel in the breakaway. After Max had finished his latest pull on the front, things settled down momentarily until a rider from HD Revolution (Mike Harris – he won this stage last year) and Ed Hooper from Audlem CC broke away. Michael is a local rider to me and I know he is very strong – particularly on the hills so I knew it was a move to chase down. I got out the saddle and chased after them. Once I’d got on the back of them I had a quick look round and noted that nobody had chased me down and there was a decent gap between the three of us and the second group. I relayed this to the other two and we then proceeded to spend the next 2 laps, 22 miles, trying to reel in the front group. I am not entirely sure what the gap was to the leading group, maybe 60/90 seconds, but it took an almighty effort to try and catch them. Ed was the most vocal breakaway rider I’ve ridden with. It was like being back at school. ‘’Is this pace ok’’ ‘’easy over the hills’’ ‘’is everyone ok’’ ‘’ease off a touch’’ ‘’are we all still together?’’ ‘’don’t get too excited boys, they are still 20 seconds in front’’ ‘’big effort now boys’’. I on the other hand barely mustered a breath as I was so tired! Penny Pot lane was so draining. The road surface is terrible and the incline just goes on and on. We rode really well together, each doing their turn and contributing to the cause.
We finally had the breakaway in sight on Penny Pot lane and reeled them in with just over 1 lap to go. Ed briefly suggested that rather than sit on the back we just drill it and go round them. I suggested he was a lunatic and told him that I’d be having a breather. He gave me a very disappointed look. I pulled alongside Eugene and he briefly looked disappointed to see me as he thought that the bunch had caught them. I reassured him that it was just the 3 of us. Suffice to say, there was no rest, now we had caught them, the lead group was up to 15 riders and everyone started attacking. I begged for mercy but it fell on deaf ears. With half a lap to go, Eugene’s brother, Archie, took his chance and went for a solo break. Nobody followed. We all looked around at each other and nobody wanted to chase. 1 lad from Adept Precision did try to catch Archie but to no avail (although he did finish 2nd on the stage). Archie won the stage. The rest of us jostled for position for the minor placings. I tried to sit on Eugene’s wheel up the final hill but I had absolutely nothing left in the tank and lost 11 seconds in the final 100 metres. I had bonked big style. 2 gels and 2 bottles of OTE didn’t quite cut the mustard. The 2 laps we spent reeling in the breakaway had taken all my reserves. I finished 15th on Stage 2. Eugene was 12th. Max came in approximately 5 minutes down and looked a broken man. He will learn to read a race better, and conserve more energy, with more experience. Eugene on the other hand already seems to have a great knack of reading a race. It also helps that he is a very strong rider across all terrain. He is also the politest team mate I have ever ridden with. Although we are all doing individual write ups from the 4 stages, it would be remiss of me not to mention what he said on the 4th and final stage. With 2 laps to go, one of his GC rivals broke away. He turned to me and said ‘’excuse me, Alastair, but would you mind chasing that move down for me. He’s one of my rivals’’. Legend. Whilst I momentarily thought to myself, no, I’m only 11 seconds down on you on GC, I duly obliged and did what was asked of me. I was impressed with both our junior riders this weekend. Eugene is already at a great level and will only get better. Max has power in spades but not quite the racing craft. It’ll come. Of that there is no doubt.
Stats for Stage 2.
65 miles (inc neutralised section)
24.4 mph average.
283 w average.
Stage 3 – By Max McMurdo
Stage 3 was a TTT which was run on the last 9km of the Dacre road circuit. It was here where it would tell who had recovered well and who was left wanting after a tough day in the saddle on Saturday.
SSLL were strong favourites to do well here, but we were at a slight disadvantage to some teams as both me and Eugene were on junior gearing, meaning we would be struggling to do turns at times. We were gonna give it everything we had none the less. We drove up in the team car to see the course, and set up turbos and rollers by the start of the course.
It quickly became our turn to start, my legs felt like they had recovered well after a hard day. That ice bath, foam roller and protein shake from OTE must have done the trick.
I was the front man who would get us up to speed, Eugene sat second to get us into the rhythm with Ali, the Diesel engine, at the back ready to put in a big shift.
It felt very smooth and fast, and considering we have never ridden together like that before I was very impressed. And meant the finish came far quicker than expected! We had let Ali do a lot of the turns on the downhills with myself and Eugene doing turns on the flat and rises where we could.
We came onto the prologue course and I knew we had only 2.37 km to go. Eugene did a big turn up the rise and I was hanging on for dear life!
We all stayed together well and the last 1 km sign had appeared. We started to sprint with about 500m to go where we fanned out to three abreast to get the fastest time possible, as it was the third rider across the line who’s time was taken. I stopped my Garmin at 10:57 for the 9km course. I was buzzing that was over 30 mph average!
Unfortunately it was only good enough for 3rd but it meant Ali and Eugene had moved up on GC to a strong position going into the 4th and final stage. I moved up aswell however I was not in contention like the other two were, having not been able to get into the break on stage 2.
It was time once again to dine on pesto pasta and chicken, before getting changed for the last time to race once again on the final stage.
Stage 4 – By Eugene Cross
After 3 stages the GC race had been set up nicely. Archie sat in 1st but this was definitely the day that the the GC could go any direction. The course was short. 4.5 laps of the Dacre circuit. Due to the horrific road surface on the descent the race would be neutralised for the descent. To sum it up this race was 5 hill climbs. Each climb would take about 12 minutes. The hill was split in half with about 1 minute descent in the middle of a 7 minute first half and a 4 minute second half. There was a tail wind up the climb and this worked in the favour of lighter people like myself however meant that the race was more likely to split up. I was sitting 1st Junior and 3rd overall after the TTT and just had to finish with the other juniors to take the 1st junior prize home.
The first time up the hill University of Sheffield Cycling Club (UOSCC) started as they meant to go on. One rider would sit on the front at a pace that strong people could live with, but that was quick enough to deter people from attacking off the front. Archie would sit second wheel behind a teammate, with the other UOSCC rider never far behind. I would sit a few wheel back, aiming to sit in the around 8th, sheltered but at the front.
The majority of the race became a routine. UOSCC would drill it up the hill, someone would attack over the top for the KOM points and we would roll back round, at a steady pace bar the intermediate sprint, and start the climb again. Having said that it wasn’t easy. The heat was incredible. The race was only 36 miles but people were still taking on extra bottles. On one of the ascents I watched second placed Chris Sleath drop his bottle. This was seriously bad news for him. Without a second bottle he was going to suffer a lot to finish this race. At this point Archie (1st) took a swig and passed Chris the final ⅓ of his first bottle. This was either the best piece of sportsmanship I’d ever seen or the bribe that sealed Archie’s overall. I guess we’ll never know.
After the 4th ascent Harry Hardcastle had jumped clear, and I was not going to let him slip away. I asked Alistair who was still right at the front of the race if he would mind chasing for me. In hindsight this was a selfish request as Alistair was only 11s behind me overall and most likely had his own ambitions. Having said that Alistair went above and beyond. He shot off the front of the bunch chased down Harry and sat behind him. Reluctant to tow Alistair round Harry sat up and the group caught up.
Ultimately I’d asked Alistair to chase because I was starting to feel tired and I knew that the final ascent would be quick. I was right. Kieran Savage on the front setting a stupid pace. I was struggling to hold it together, and Adam Hartley (2nd Junior) knew about it. We crested the first half of the hill and I got some rest , kieran was spent and pulled off. Adam flew down the corner at the bottom of the brief descent and got a couple of bike lengths on me. At this point he knew that I was struggling and that he had to take time. He didn’t sprint off the front but rode as hard as he could. I tried telling myself that I didn’t have long to hold on but with about 150m I blew and flicked my elbow to tell whoever was behind that I was losing the wheel in front. Nobody came through. People came alongside me but only archie had managed to stay with Adam. At the top of the hill I was spent, but mildly optimistic. I knew that archie had nothing to gain from working and would just sit on to give me a fighting chance of chasing. I tried to get a chase going, openly begging people to try chase, but my whole group, which still contained Alistair, couldn’t muster a chase. Meanwhile Adam was riding away with my 3rd place and first junior. I drilled it into the last Km knowing that I hadn’t done enough. The group behind me all sprinted around me with a few hundred metres to go. I’d blown it. I watched the sprint from behind and saw Alistair and Paddy Clark (UOSCC) both crash to the floor hard after incredible races from both of them. Torn kit and plenty of road rash, but otherwise ok. Rumour is that Paddys skinsuit will be framed by UOSCC or worn for “shit lycra socials”. Adam had put 30s into my group, nailing me down to 4th, and taking 2nd for himself overall. Archie had won the stage (by an overly small margin considering Adam had towed him the final 5km). Archie had also won the GC, but owed this 98% to his teammates. The way Kieran and Paddy had sacrificed themselves all day for Archie was admirable. I think Archie was very grateful to them both. Ian Savage came over to me after the stage and wagered that Archie would break down to tears at some point that evening over how moved he was by the performance. Again, I guess we’ll never know.
Max had dropped from the front group due to a mechanical with under a lap to go hence his absence in the finale. Max did not sit up. Whilst many people had quit once they’d been dropped Max fought for each second. It was entirely this attitude of not quitting that secured SSLL the 2nd team overall.
Max, Alistair and I all owe a huge thanks to Jon Surtees who supported us both days. All three SSLL riders had a great time and are definitely looking forward to racing as a team in a stage race again soon.